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Humphries, Nkemdiche and Year 2

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2017 – 9:50 am

D.J. Humphries’ rookie year was a washout. He knew that, even if it made sense he needed to mature both physically and mentally when it came to playing in the NFL. His second year, he was a starter all season (until he suffered a concussion late in the season) and definitely had improvement, to the point where Humphries is the early choice to play left tackle this season. He’s anxious to build on that in 2017, which was underscored by his tweet today:

The work needed, and Humphries’ step forward in his second year, made me think of Robert Nkemdiche.

Like Humphries, Nkemdiche’s rookie season was a washout. Nkemdiche was actually active for a handful of games (unlike Humphries) but he didn’t make an impact. He knew, as did his coaches, that he hadn’t been ready for the NFL. That, according to both Nkemdiche and his coaches, improved near the end of the season. Recently, when talking about his breakout choices for 2017, General Manager Steve Keim brought up Nkemdiche. Make no mistake — the Cardinals will need Nkemdiche to take at the very least a Humphries-like step forward in his second year. Calais Campbell very well could leave as a free agent, and besides, Nkemdiche was a first-round pick — you have to have your first-round picks have significant development year to year.

It’s an important offseason not only for the Cardinals (who could have some significant defensive changes) but for Nkemdiche.

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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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Jefferson, Campbell and “aggressive” FA efforts

Posted by Darren Urban on February 17, 2017 – 11:59 am

The Cardinals want to keep safety Tony Jefferson. They want to keep defensive tackle Calais Campbell. Whether they can is to be determined, with the free agent “tampering” period beginning March 7 and official free agency starting March 9.

“I’ve always been adamant about not negotiating through the media,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said Friday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports. “But we have been, in my opinion, very aggressive with trying to re-sign the players we would like to have back. As we get closer to free agency, some players would prefer to test the market. We understand. It’s a business. But when you find guys who are core players, who you want to move forward with, you have to try to be active and aggressive and try to re-sign them.”

Will it matter? Matt Miller, an NFL writer who has had friendly interactions with Jefferson on Twitter before, tweeted Friday that Jefferson is expected to hit the free-agent market and garner offers at $7 million a season. The news has been a lot quieter around Campbell, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything either way.

The key part to this is that it is Feb. 17. That’s an eternity before March 9 in this context. Talks with everything tend to ramp up before a deadline, and we’re just too far from a deadline right now. It’s also good to note that Jefferson getting that nugget out there helps his leverage, much like the Cardinals continuing to point out they will franchise tag Chandler Jones if a deal cannot be reached with him.

(Keim said the team has had “great dialogue with Chandler” so perhaps a long-term deal isn’t out of the question quite yet.)

Still, this comes down to reality, and the reality has always been that the Cardinals have been longshots to retain Jones, Jefferson and Campbell.

“You can’t have everybody back,” Keim said. “The way the salary cap is situated, you have to make some tough decisions. You have to make some tough decisions based on what the salary is, their age, their injury history. So many things go into it. That’s the tough part of the business, because we all get emotionally attached to these guys.”

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Warner believes Anquan is a Hall of Famer

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2017 – 10:52 am

Kurt Warner is in the Hall of Fame, and he’s had a chance to play with a lot of receivers that also could get a gold jacket. Larry Fitzgerald will be there someday, and Warner knows that. But in an interview with PFT Live, Warner was asked who he’d bang the table for to try and help get into Canton. He said former Rams teammate Isaac Bruce, in his view, should already be in so he’d probably lobby that way, but he also said he expects Bruce and fellow Ram Torry Holt to eventually get in. So, Warner said, that would turn his attention to former Cardinals teammate Anquan Boldin.

“I might bang the table for Anquan Boldin, because I think of all those guys, he gets the least respect for how great he is,” Warner said. “It amazes me, we want to keep looking at measurables and how fast guys are, as opposed to (being) one of the greatest football players I ever played with, competed more than anybody I ever played (with).

“He wanted the ball in his hands, was a difference-maker. Everybody tries to get rid of him and he just goes and he’s the No. 1 receiver on that next team. So I believe he’s the one who gets the least amount of respect, so I would love to get on the table for him.”

Boldin’s career, like Fitz’s, is winding down. He’s currently set to be a free agent after spending 2016 with the Lions, and said — while at the Super Bowl in Houston — his plans for 2017 were undecided.

“You probably have to ask my wife,” Boldin said with a chuckle. “The decisions I make now don’t just affect me. If it was up to me, I’d say I’d probably be playing in 2017, but I have to sit down with my wife. We have two boys, my decision affects them, so it’ll be a family decision.”

(No, I would not think, if Boldin continues to play, the Cardinals would be an option.)

Boldin’s numbers deserve Hall consideration for sure, as does the fact he played for some good teams — the Cards’ Super Bowl team, the Ravens when they won a Super Bowl, playoff teams in San Francisco and Detroit. With 1,076 receptions for 13,779 yards and 82 touchdowns, his stats were close to Fitzgerald’s up until a couple of seasons ago when Fitz’s production popped. (Fitz is at 1,125-14,389-104 for his career).

As great as Boldin’s career has been there’s no question his best years — and longest tenure — was his time in Arizona. Seven seasons, five 1,000-yard years (of the seven in his career.) When he and Fitz played together at the height of their powers, they deserved to be in the argument for best duo.

Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner


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Bidwill: Franchising Jones, and London talk

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2017 – 10:30 am

It’s been no secret — Bruce Arians made it pretty clear the day after the season — that the Cardinals are planning on using the franchise tag on linebacker Chandler Jones if necessary. Team president Michael Bidwill reiterated that Tuesday during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

“We’re not going to mess around with that,” Bidwill said. “He’s a great pass rusher, but if we can’t agree to terms that work for us, we’re just going to franchise him. His people know that.”

Some of the other points Bidwill made (aside from a concert moving training camp for a few days):

— On the Cardinals’ own significant free agents: “We’re going to be negotiating with these folks and we already are, and we’re hopeful to get everyone under contract,” Bidwill said. “If we get everybody under contract, that’ll be a huge win for us. If we get most of them, that will be very good for us.”

Bidwill wasn’t specific about the players, but among them are defensive keys, Jones, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson.

— On the London game against the Rams, which will be either Oct. 22 or 29. “We’ve been lobbying for us to get over there,” Bidwill said. “(The league) wanted us to give up a home game, which we will have to do as part of the next bid for the Super Bowl, but we really wanted to be a visiting team. This year we finally got the call.”

Bidwill said the NFL is “overdue” in making the announcement over the specific date, and he will be pushing for that decision so that the team and fans can plan for the trip.

— Wide receiver John Brown should regain his form after battling his sickle cell issues, Bidwill said. “He is very healthy,” Bidwill said. “It looks like they found the issue and we’ll get Smoke back the way we had him.”

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Palmer: “Your body starts telling you ‘no'”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 10, 2017 – 10:53 am

Carson Palmer is back for the 2017 season, releasing a statement about it Thursday. Friday, Palmer called into the “Rich Eisen Show” to talk a little bit about his decision to return, with little surprise — he’s an older guy, and he needed to make sure his body would hold up. He feels it will.

“I love playing the game, love everything about it, but at some point, your body tells you when to stop and (when) the season ended, I just went into Steve Keim and Bruce Arians and asked them if I could take a month and make sure my body would get back to 100 percent,” said Palmer, who will turn 38 in December. “I took the month, my body has recovered well, feel great, feel ready to start getting ready in the offseason again. It was never about anything other than my body. My mind, my passion, all the things it takes to play this game, I still have. The desire to study, the desire to train, the desire to get ready for games.

“You start getting old like me, you start getting grey hair, your body starts telling you no. At some point it will, but I am excited I have responded, my body responded, and I get to keep playing.”

(There seems to be this perception Palmer is fragile, but he hasn’t been in Arizona. Yes, he missed 10 games in 2014, most of which because he tore his ACL. Otherwise, in Palmer’s other three Cardinals seasons, Palmer has played in 47 of 48 games, missing only one in 2016 because of a concussion.)

Palmer wasn’t talking about beyond 2017, one way or the other — “At this point in my career, it’s a one-year-at-a-time-type of deal,” he said, not closing the door on playing in 2018 but obviously waiting for his body’s input when we get to that point as well. He did note that, starting around age 34 or 35, it takes longer to recover each week.

“The older you get, the later on in the week you start feeling better,” Palmer said. “Sometimes it takes up until Thursday, Friday to recover from the previous Sunday be ready to play the next Sunday.”

It makes a lot of sense that Palmer stopped practicing on Wednesdays this past season. That certainly should continue this year (Larry Fitzgerald also figures to have Wednesday rest days again too.)

But Palmer returns. He joked about tendinitis in left hand from changing the diapers of his infant at home the past month — another reason to think about football again. “The offseason is pretty short but retirement is really long,” Palmer said.

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Healthy-looking pool jump for David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2017 – 8:03 am

Once the initial scare was over, there was never really any fear about David Johnson’s knee injury suffered in the final game of the season. He had an MCL sprain. He’d be fine in about a month or two. (OK, had he suffered the exact same injury in Week 4, sending a season sideways, that’d be different. But timing is everything.)

Well, here we are, about six weeks later, and as expected, Johnson looks fine. He’s been coming to the team facility for rehab most days, and now tweeted out a video of himself leaping out of a pool. There is no doubt Johnson is well on track to be ready whenever offseason work begins. Just like he thought.


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Cards on top 101 list, but no Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2017 – 1:37 pm

Is Patrick Peterson among the top 101 players from this past season?

One list — from Pro Football Focus — does not have the Cardinals cornerback on it. PFF ranks players based on grades they gave out for that season’s work. There are five Cardinals from 2016 on the list. Running back David Johnson (the guy who PFF called the best receiver in the NFL) is No. 23. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is No. 24. Edge rusher Chandler Jones is No. 62. Safety Tony Jefferson is No. 84, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is No. 89.

So no Peterson.

It’s not a huge surprise. PFF even talked about Peterson’s absence from an earlier all-pro team. The other five were deserving. Johnson was high on everyone’s list this season, and PFF had multiple times praised the seasons of Campbell and Jefferson. Jones proved to be a valuable acquisition and Fitz was, well, Fitz. In Peterson’s case, it was in part because of a good season by other cornerbacks (and, as my cohort Kyle Odegard points out, PFF grading doesn’t seem to take into account a lack of targets because teams throw away from a certain DB, or for the quality of receiver being covered.)

From PFF: “Peterson has been good this year, but he has allowed as many touchdowns (three) as he has interceptions, and allowed 60.6 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, a career high. When targeted he allowed a passer rating of 80.7, which wasn’t bad, but ranks 30th in the league and not in the same ballpark as players like Aqib Talib, who led the NFL at 47.0.”

Peterson had a response. “So does that mean these ‘experts’ will be releasing a Top 100 ‘Not Targeted’ List? Nope.” Peterson wrote in a tweet.

The other thing I see from the five Cards here — three are unrestricted free agents. All those guys are talented, but the contract year is real too.

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Waiting for Palmer, ranking the Cardinals’ QBs

Posted by Darren Urban on February 7, 2017 – 2:15 pm

Fitz said he’s coming back and it seems like only a matter of time before Carson Palmer does the same. I get why some have trepidation that Palmer has yet to officially say anything, but knowing Palmer, he really didn’t want to even make coming back a “thing” if he could’ve helped it; if Bruce Arians hadn’t mentioned that Palmer was on the fence, I’m not sure anyone would even be thinking about it.

(As a side note, on Friday Palmer’s 2017 salary of $15.5 million becomes fully guaranteed. Fitz’s $11M salary also becomes guaranteed that day.)

It’s important to have Palmer, of course. I’ve heard from fans who think otherwise, who want to move on, but that makes no sense to me. Not that it matters — Palmer, if he wants to play, is the quarterback. But anytime that subject comes up, it makes me think of the lengthy list of QBs this franchise has had since moving to Arizona. So, as the 2016 season fades and we wait for the 2017 season to gain steam, I thought I’d do a power ranking of the QBs this team has had since 1988, the year they came to the desert. My one requirement: A QB had to have at least 10 starts (eliminating some half-season greats like Boomer Esiason, Derek Anderson and Jay Schroeder. Feel free to insert them into your own list if you choose.) There have been a few.

  1. 1. Kurt Warner: He’s a Hall of Famer and the lone guy to get the Cards to a Super Bowl. So, yeah. He’s the best.
  2. 2. Palmer: He has plenty of critics. But he’s been pretty good. He’s won a lot of games. And, save for 2014, he’s been durable.
  3. 3. Neil Lomax: Oh, that hip.
  4. 4. Jake Plummer: Beloved local hero finally got the Cardinals to the playoffs. So fun to watch. Sometimes, frustrating to watch.
  5. 5. Kevin Kolb: He was usually solid — he could just never stay healthy. Beat the Patriots in New England.
  6. 6. Steve Beuerlein: Maybe things would’ve been a little different if Buddy Ryan hadn’t shown up.
  7. 7. Josh McCown: The man Denny Green believed in enough to justify drafting Fitz.
  8. 8. Timm Rosenbach: Another guy you wonder about had he had health.
  9. 9. Matt Leinart: He did just fine his first two starts. But post-Monday Night Meltdown, and after Kurt, everything changed.
  10. 10. Dave Krieg: To be a QB on a Buddy Ryan team couldn’t have been easy.
  11. 11. Kent Graham: Had the misfortune of trying to be the placeholder for Jake the Snake.
  12. 12. Chris Chandler: One year as full-time starter got 15 TDs, 15 picks and 12 losses.
  13. 13. Jeff Blake: Once, I asked him about his career. “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball,” he said. “I’ve just been on bad teams.”
  14. 14. Gary Hogeboom: Those years after Lomax were tough.
  15. 15. John Skelton: Cards managed to go .500 with him taking over for Kolb in 2011. Fitz helped.
  16. 16. Tom Tupa: He was a punter first for a reason.

WARNER MCCOWN

 


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An anthem, the “itch” and Fitz’s return

Posted by Darren Urban on February 6, 2017 – 11:51 am

The moment, Fitz said, boiled up when Mike Phillips was playing the national anthem in Atlanta before the NFC Championship game between the Falcons and Packers. The Cardinals wide receiver said he was “just into it.”

“I was sitting there and the fire was burning,” Fitzgerald said. “I wanted to be out there.”

That’s what told Fitz he needed to play again in 2017, something he announced last week.

“I called (Bruce Arians), I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got that itch,’ ” Fitzgerald said the other night, after he was awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year. “He was like, ‘Don’t rush, don’t make a hasty decision. Take your time.’ We talked again, I had dinner with Coach (Friday) night. I love that man, I love playing for him, he brings a great energy to our team and a toughness that is contagious.”

That’s what Arians had predicted, that the players would eventually have that itch. (Of course, when Arians said that, it was after the NFC Championship game and after Fitz said he was “pretty sure” he knew his decision, so B.A. was working with inside information.) Fitzgerald acknowledged all the things expected to have impacted his wavering about playing in the first place — feeling “pretty bad” after the season both physically and psychologically.

Spending time in Houston last week wasn’t ideal either.

“It sucks coming here (to the Super Bowl) and enjoying the pageantry of the event but not actually participating in the event,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not the same. We all play for that. Hopefully we get off to a fast start and get it going this year.”

The Cardinals are waiting to hear from quarterback Carson Palmer about his status for 2017, but at this point it feels like a foregone conclusion Palmer will indeed play.

“We all hope that Carson comes back, not to put any pressure on him,” Fitzgerald said. “But we are a very, very good team when Carson is playing quarterback for us.”

6th Annual NFL Honors


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